Most of it has been for my peeps (actually a rooster and a little chick), and I hope it has saved us a lot of money--something cooking can do for anyone, as long as in practice "cooking" means making things from contemporary scratch (as opposed to Little House on the Prairie scratch; you don't have to make your own cheese). And not wasting the food you buy helps, of course.
You are not cooking per se if you simply purchase convenience products to eat at home (the premade Philly Cream Cheese cheesecake filling, in a giant tub, springs to mind; so do canned soups; so does microwaveable rice).
Even buying bags of precut broccoli, which I have done, is a pretty senseless act, not just because it takes two seconds to saw the stem off of a head of broccoli, but because if you peel the stems, slice them into rounds, and sautee them in olive oil (or eat them raw in salad), you will have a special added treat that will surprise you. Two broccoli treats for the much more expensive price of one.
More and more, lately, I'd rather cook than go to a restaurant. Unless I get freaked out.
Some things that might freak me out, in order of intensity
1. The possibility of giving anyone food poisoning (which has never happened, but probably only because I refuse to stuff a turkey) or getting it. No one touches my raw chicken after patting the dog. I'm like that Saturday Night Live character, the Obsessive Compulsive Chef, so there's a certain amount of Silkwood worthy hand washing that takes place in my kitchen.
1. The people I am cooking for are starving, but do not cook themselves. This is not because I want them to help me cook, necessarily, but because they sometimes do not understand that that simple dish they love and request takes more time than, say, microwaving a Hot Pocket. I don't have a food processor, I just bought a box grater, and I tend to make stewy dishes that take a lot of chopping, etc. But I also have a hard time saying no to people I adore. So I rush to make the requested dish, then act as if someone asked me to carry the world on my shoulders. "Here's your 'simple' dish, that took me an hour and a half to make; I hope you don't get indigestion because I would never want you to feel as bad as I do right now, which is to say I can barely walk I'm so exhausted."
3. Company is coming. This is probably a side effect of the existence of Martha Stewart, whom, God help, me I love; I even bought a poncho like the one she wore on her way out of prison. Not to mention all the shelter magazines I read. The way some women obsess over body image and clothing, I worry about not having six matching place mats, which I've never owned.
Until now! I don't own just six, I own 8. It was an accident, because a couple got stuck together, (but we did pay for them). So, we own 8 matching place mats. We also have these three adorable succulent plants, which I bought for 4 dollars apiece, and which make a very nice centerpiece.
I'm on top of the world. Of course, there is no point to place mats and cheap succulents if you don't invite your friends over.
All of which is a drawn-out prelude to announcing that I'm going to start sharing the food I make with more people. Now is a just a good time to share.
I object to the term "entertaining" in this context. If I feed people good food, should I also be required to amuse them, like some circus plate-spinner? Must I engage in crafting? I own a book with the words "entertaining" and "simple" in the title, for instance, and it suggests that I "sandwich two [millinery] flowers together at the top of [a drink] stirrer with a drop of hot glue." Obviously, I'm not going to do that. And it would make me a little uncomfortable if I arrived at your house and you had. Yet, as I have said, I love Martha Stewart.
Besides, my friends are so wonderful. They've travelled to places I have not, they bring cherry pies, they use their brains in ways that are different from the way I use mine (which is mostly for worrying), know things I don't, tell hilarious/ironic/sweet/amazing stories. They are lovely.
Some bring their adorable 3 1/2 year old daughter with them, for a swim date with the resident chicklet. For them, I made a steak salad (for the adults), from one of my favorite old cookbooks, Cucina Fresca; for the kids, a four cheese mac and cheese, from Sheila Lukin's latest cookbook, Ten. With bread, and an apple crisp for dessert, it seemed just right.
Others come bearing beautiful scented soap, heart shaped candies, Good & Plenty (my favorite candy). But of course, they don't have to bring anything. For them I made a good party dish, Pierre Franey's Crevettes a la Mode Grecque avec Rigatoni, a.k.a. Greek-style shrimp over rigatoni. It is incredibly easy and makes great leftovers. That, my own Pale Green Salad, and for dessert, homemade hot fudge on vanilla ice cream with toasted almonds and whipped cream (from a spray can), about which nothing bad can be said. I'll give you those recipes later.
But only because this has gone on way too long.
Insalata Bistecca, from Cucina Fresca, by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman
2 pounds sirloin steak
1 pound white mushrooms (white are really the correct ones to use; don't be tempted to get fancy).
1 small bunch scallions, trimmed
3 good ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded (I peel them by poking a fork in them and holding them over a gas flame until the skin pops; you don't want to cook them, though)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley, or more. I like a lot.
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (I used 4; I love vinegar)
1 tablespoons Dijon mustard (I used 2-3; I love mustard)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small shallot, peeled and minced
Coarse Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Mixed salad greens.
- Place steak in a preheated broiler, about 4 inches from flame. Cook about 3 minutes per side, for medium rare. Remove to a plate to cool. (Obviously, this would be even more fantastic on an outdoor grill, so do that if you have a yard.)
- While steak cools (do not refrigerate), clean mushrooms with a damp cloth; trim stem ends and slice mushrooms thinly. Cut scallions into paper thin rings; discard green tops. Dice tomatoes.
- Cut steak against the grain into 1/4 inch slices. combine with mushrooms, scallions tomatoes, parsley in a large bowl.
- Prepare dressing: combine all ingredients in a jar, and shake until emulsified. I like a bit more vinegar, usually. Adjust to your own taste.
- Pour dressing over steak mixture and toss gently. Serve over a big bowl of torn mixed lettuces, and let guests serve themselves. How much lettuce is up to you. Cucina Fresca suggests serving it on a few leaves. (I like it more salad-y, as Pee Wee Herman says. "Mmmmm: Salad-y!") You can always serve more dressing at the table, but it's not necessary.
Andrew Engle's Mac and Cheese, from Ten, by Sheila Lukins
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound penne (or elbow macaroni)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose four
4 cups milk, warmed (Lukins says use whole; I use lowfat)
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar
1 1/2 cups grated mozarrella
2-3 dashes Tabasco (I use a lot more than this)
Sweet paprika, to taste.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil, add olive oil, penne; stir. Cook until al dente (just tender), 12 minutes. Drain, return penne to pot, cover and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees; butter a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish.
- Prepare sauce. Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat. Sprinkle in flour, whisking constantly. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes (don't let it brown). While whisking, slowly add warm milk. Continue to whick until the mixture is thickened and lump free. Remove from heat.
- Stir three cheeses together in a mixing bowl. Set aside 3/4 cup of the mixture for topping the casserole. Slowly mix in the remaining cheese, in small handfuls, stirring until each has melted completely and sauce is smooth. Stir in Tabasco, pepper, salt, paprika. Fold in the cooked penne, coating well.
- Trasfer mixture to the prepared baking dish, sprinkle with reserved cheese, bake until the top is golden and crusty, about 35 minutes. Serve promptly.